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Raising...Ramsey, raising consciousness

By Heidi Bernadette Mack / June 13, 1988



A SHREDDING machine couldn't have done a better job on our latest J.Crew catalog. My rattan wastebasket was significantly smaller than when I had last seen it. And the yardstick was down to 28 inches. It was not a pretty sight. The culprit was stretched out on the couch, innocently gnawing his proper chewstick, barely glancing in my direction. Like most rabbits, Ramsey makes no apologies for misbehaving. They just aren't like puppies who can look contrite, will come when you call, and can learn what's right and wrong. But what he lacks in those areas, he makes up for in entertainment - bounding around the house; stopping only for head rubs and an occasional nibble.

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Nowadays, most people who know me wouldn't be surprised that I have a rabbit that roams through my house and that there's no meat in my freezer, or anywhere near it. But I wasn't always this way.

I grew up like millions of other American kids - eating hot dogs at baseball games with my dad, and helping my mom make ``heavenly hamburger,'' one of my favorite casseroles of the time. I never thought about the fact that I was eating cows or pigs. It was just beef, bacon, or ham.

I wasn't even very interested in animals when I was growing up. It was my sister who raised the hamsters, brought home the injured birds, and begged for a dog.

I was reading ``Anne of Green Gables'' while she read ``Misty of Chincoteague.'' And I still remember, way back, playing with trolls while she played with plastic horses. (``Not just any old horses,'' she would say most emphatically. ``They're appaloosas.'')

IT'S not that I didn't like animals, it's just that I never gave them much thought. Which is why my mother seemed so surprised when I told her I had become a vegetarian. ``You're going to stop eating meat?'' she had asked in amazement. ``You'll shrink away!''

I managed to survive those first few years, naive though I was. I thought at first that a vegetarian simply left the meat out of a ``regular meal'' and was left with the potatoes and peas sitting like islands on a sea of plate. It took my husband and me quite a while to become more creative in the kitchen.

We were in the grocery store one day, our cart piled high with canned soups, deluxe noodle packages, and biscuit mixes. While stocking up in the Mexican food section, Ronn decided to read a label on a can of our regular refried beans. And there it was - halfway down the list, unobtrusively listed between the onion powder and salt. Animal fat. We looked at each other in dismay. And then down at the loaded cart.

Item by item we read the ingredients, and item by item they went back on the shelves. It was amazing how many things contained animal shortening (or lard). Back went the graham crackers, soups, cake mixes, even the trusty old quick-biscuit mix. When we were through, vegetables and dairy products were all that were left. It was then that we realized we had to trade off some of the convenience of frozen entrees and pre-packaged goods for the satisfaction of making more humane purchases.

We began doing some of our shopping in natural food stores, finding items we'd never heard of before. We discovered a great variety of good, wholesome things to eat. Many other cultures don't have the opportunity or inclination to use much meat, and have come up with wonderful dishes containing unusual ingredients like seitan (a whole wheat meat substitute which is thought of as ``mock duck''), tahini (a sesame paste used in Middle Eastern dishes), and of course tofu (a soybean curd used in many recipes).